The 12th of July 2020 will remain long in the memory of the small band of local hurling enthusiasts from the Carracastle, Kilmovee, Ballaghaderreen and Charlestown area – the day that their club Caiseal Gaels - played their first adult hurling challenge game against close neighbours Tourlestrane of Sligo.
It was the culmination of over a decade of underage hurling development since the club was formed in November 2008. The origins of the club was borne out of a Carracastle National School side who won the Mayo Cuman na mBunscoil Mini7s Hurling title that year, and whose interest in pursuing the small ball game had been ignited. Coupled with a growth in hurling in nearby National Schools Derrinabroc, Brusna and Kilmovee – and all the ingredients were there from the start to build towards this milestone day.
A decade of development
Once the club was formed, and the colours picked and the crest designed, the hard work of fielding teams began. In March 2009 the Caiseal Gaels club togged out for the first time in an U14 challenge match against neighbours Tooreen. From that initial match the mentors within the club knew they were on to something good, as the Gaels showed they could compete with the best at underage level in Mayo.
From that inaugural U14 team in 2009, eight of the panel still remain to make up the current history-making adult panel, namely Paul Vesey, Brendan Vesey, Kieran Murphy, Darren Williams, Rory Shryane, Aidan Hopkins, Kevin McDonagh and Ryan Kelly. In the same year, the club U12 side took part in the ‘Play & Stay’ hurling day in Croke Park, which helped recruit more hurlers from around the region in anticipation of playing on the hallowed turf.
Over the years as the club grew, the afterschool nursery and the youth teams became the main emphasis in the club's development, with the U14 Feile na nGael being the highlight of many summers for the kids from the area. Weekends away to Dublin, Cavan, Laois and Kilkenny for Feile na nGael - along with hosting on one occasion - formed a bond amongst the players, parents and mentors – a bond that continues to this day. The visit to Tullaroan in Kilkenny was particularly memorable for the Mayo side as they came away with a victory over one of the most decorated clubs in Kilkenny hurling. Many underage titles followed in the Mayo GAA competitions along the way also, which kept the production line ticking over for the border club. Hurling was slowly become part of the culture around the Carracastle area, and a real identity with the small ball game has been garnered along the way.
A New Dawn
At the start of 2020 the officers of Caiseal Gaels took the bold decision of forming an adult hurling side. The team would compete in the Mayo Genfitt League and the National Cuchulain League – a new competition set up to give adult hurling sides extra games against teams of a similar standard.
Players young and old answered the call and the panel was formed with a strong management team of Christy Phillips, Finbarr Craughwell, Ger Duffy, Martin Hopkins, Michael Raleigh and club secretary Michael Bracken. Pre-season training advanced well and visits from renowned coaches Martin Fogarty (Kilkenny ) and Damien Coleman (Galway ) had the players primed for their first battle. The date was set for Sunday March 15 to play nearby Sligo club Tourlestrane in a challenge game. But just as all preparations were in place – the word came through that all GAA activity would cease due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Gaels’ wait for their first adult outing would have to be prolonged for a few months more.....
It finally happened!
So roll onto Sunday July 12 2020 and a band of twenty-three Gaels hurlers took to the field to create history in Tourlestrane GAA Grounds in South Sligo by taking on the local side.
After nearly four months of lockdown, this game was eventually going to happen. For many of the Caiseal Gaels players it was their first time hurling in an adult setting – while for others it was a return to the sport of their youth after years of inactivity. However, the Green and Whites settled well and weren’t overawed by the occasion.
After a few early points from the much slicker Sligo attack, the first historic point for Caiseal Gaels arrived in the 12th minute as Aidan Morrisroe pointed a 65’ to open his side's account. This was closely followed by Caiseal Gaels’ first point from play as midfielder Luke Connor pointed nicely after some neat teamwork. The Gaels’ settled into the game well for the remainder of the half and at times were more than capable of spraying some passes around – which shows a potential for growth into the future. At half time the score stood at 1-9 to 0-5 in favour of the more experienced Sligo outfit.
With the aid of the strong breeze in the second half – Tourlestrane began to rack up the scores. But the result of the game wasn’t important as all twenty-three players togged for the Mayo side received ample game time to help remember their part in the historic day. And when referee Pat Normanly drew a halt to proceedings, there was a great sense of achievement for the Gaels – even though the scoreboard read otherwise. They had eventually become part of the world of adult hurling and can now start to dream of where this journey can take them.
So what does the future hold for Caiseal Gaels?
With this milestone achieved – the appetite has now been whetted for further challenge games and activities around the region. The restructuring of the Mayo GAA fixtures now means that the Mayo GAA Genfitt Hurling League will take place in October – giving the fledgling club extra time to prepare. The players will continue to train at the state of the art Carracastle Astropark and Hurling Wall and on the adjoining Carracastle Community Pitch. Any new players in the area wishing to join or support can email [email protected]
The history making side was as follows: Caiseal Gaels: Brian Hughes;, Aiden Hopkins, Liam Moffatt, Paul Vesey; Darren Williams, Michael Raleigh, Jack Craughwell; Aidan Morrisroe, Luke Connor; Norman Finnerty, Ryan Kelly, Tomas Dillon; James Judge, Brendan Vesey, Dermot Dillon. Subs: Tomas Rushe, Kieran Murphy, Shane Morrisroe, Patrick Hunt, Paddy Dozio, Kevin Hartigan, Martin Vesey, Jamie Duffy (inj ), Joe Dillon (inj ).
Management: Finbarr Craughwell, Gerry Duffy & Michael Bracken (Club Secretary ).